[op-ed snap] No budget for farmers

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Mains Paper 3: Economic Development| Major crops cropping patterns in various parts of the country, different types of irrigation and irrigation systems storage, transport and marketing of agricultural produce and issues and related constraints; e-technology in the aid of farmers

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Nothing as such.

Mains level: The news-card analyses the direct income support scheme for farmers as proposed in budget 2019, in a brief manner.


Context

  • According to some experts, the proposed Rs 6,000 annual direct income support to small and marginal farmers in Budget 2019 is a drop in the ocean.
  • States like Telangana and Odisha have done much better with their Rythu Bandhu and Kalia schemes respectively.

Issue

Major reforms needs to be undertaken

  • It must be seen that this Rs 72,000 crore as direct income support to farmers is nowhere near the annual loss of about Rs 2,65,000 crore that farmers have been suffering in recent years because of the low prices they have received due to restrictive marketing and trade policies.
  • Until major marketing reforms are initiated, there is no hope of doubling farmers’ real incomes by 2022-23.
  • The enhanced interest subvention only leads to diversion of funds from agriculture to non-agriculture uses.
  • There is ample evidence that in some states agri-credit is even more than the value of agri-output.
  • So, this scheme of interest subvention needs to be reviewed.

Expanding the reach of farmers to institutional credit

  • The real need is to expand the reach of farmers to institutional credit.
  • The Kisan Credit Card (KCC) was an innovative policy of the Vajpayee government, but the latest survey of NABARD on financial inclusion (2015-16) shows that only about 10 per cent of farmers are using these cards.
  • One needs to understand the constraints and find solutions to expand and deepen its coverage.

Making the price competitive and remunerative

  • The schemes for cow protection and upgrading their breeds and having a separate outfit for fisheries are steps in the right direction, but they cannot make any difference to the current problems faced by farmers.
  • It will take years before any of these schemes can deliver.
  • Increasing milk production, without its pricing being competitive and remunerative to farmers, may not do much benefit to farmers.

Targeting the idea of income support

  • However, there is a need to know first how much of India’s population is poor.
  • There is no robust figure from the government side in the last five years.
  • Following the Tendulkar poverty line, the previous government had come up with an estimate of about 22 per cent poverty in the country in 2011.
  • It was contested by many and later, the Rangarajan Committee had put it at 30 per cent.
  • The World Bank’s poverty clock puts it at 5.5 per cent.
  • Even if one thinks that roughly one-fifth of India needs income support — say Rs 5,000 per month — the bill will amount to about Rs 3.5 lakh crore.

Way Forward

  • The income support scheme is doable if the food subsidies and MGNREGA are drastically pruned and targeted to this bottom 20 per cent of population.
  • Food subsidies and MGNREGA are costing the government more than 2.2 lakh crore, and a sizeable part of this is either lost in leakages or is not utilised productively.
  • Similarly, fertiliser subsidies can also be made through direct income support to farmers even those with holdings up to the size of four hectares.
  • Gradually, the states can be encouraged to put even power subsidy through direct income transfer and charge the market price for power, recovering at least its cost of supply.
  • These can then be fundamental reforms, switching from the price policy approach to income policy approach, for helping the small and marginal farmers and poor consumers.
  • The current problems of the peasantry are not on the supply, but on the demand side; it is about low prices.
Agricultural Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.
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